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Can John Kelly tame the tumult at the White House?

July 31, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Can John Kelly bring order to the White House? Stuart Rothenberg of Inside Elections and Tamara Keith of NPR join William Brangham to discuss the removal of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, whether the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is dead, plus the Alabama special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat.
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WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But first: The revolving door at the White House keeps spinning.

Anthony Scaramucci is now the second communications director to leave. There have been two chiefs of staff, two press secretaries, two heads of the FBI, and two national security advisers, all that in just half-a-year of the Trump administration.

These latest shakeups come on the heels of the dramatic failure last week of the Republican plan to replace Obamacare.

So, it is a perfect time for politics Monday, this week with Tamara Keith of NPR and Stu Rothenberg, senior editor at Inside Elections.

Welcome to you both.

Another slow news day here in the Trump administration.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tam, I would like to start with you.

We saw this incredible move today where Scaramucci is pushed out. What’s your sense? There’s been a reporting on two ways, that this was John Kelly’s day one in the office, and he wanted this done, that the president really wanted this done.

What do we know about why he was fired?

TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: There are a number of reasons that he would have been fired.

And we don’t know exactly, because John Kelly and the president are going to tell the story that they tell, and we will see how much leaks out.

But just think about Anthony Scaramucci. In his very short tenure as the communications director, he — first, he had no experience in communications, really, and communications strategy. Over those 10 days, he made himself the story. Everybody was talking about the Mooch, and nobody was talking about President Trump’s policies.

And this, like, tirade with all of the profanity and all of the very not-suitable-for-work things that he said, that alone would be a firing offense. And yet he wasn’t fired until John Kelly came on board. So, there’s that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, John Kelly, day one. This is heralded by many as a return to order, that Trump White House will now right the ship and policy will flow and everything will be hunky-dory.

Do you think this move really does signal a shift? Can he do this job?

STUART ROTHENBERG, Inside Elections: Well, this isn’t the first time that I have heard that: There’s going to be a dramatic shift, reorganizing, a rebirth of this administration.

Look, I want to give now Chief of Staff Kelly a wide berth here. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s clearly a mature, capable, accomplished plan, a great background. He has the president’s confidence.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Which is crucial.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Very important. So, let’s give him a chance.

Having said that, I have to acknowledge that the president is the president. Organizations reflect the person at the top, their management style and their personality. And so I’m a little skeptical that we’re going to have a huge, fundamental change here.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: What is your take on that?

Obviously, he comes from a very different command structure. In the Marine Corps, it’s top-down, there’s chain of command. And we know that the Trump administration doesn’t really like it like that. The president likes to hear from a lot of people at a lot of different times of the day.

So, how do you see this shaking out?

TAMARA KEITH: And a well-run White House has a chain of command, has somebody blocking the door to the Oval Office and controlling the information flow to and from the president.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But will that happen?

TAMARA KEITH: That is a very excellent question.

And I think if anyone tells you that they know that — now, John Kelly has gotten assurances that he will able to run the shop, but can he run the president?

So, when I was younger, my dad gave me some advice about dating. And that advice was, don’t go into a relationship believing that you can change someone, because you can’t.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It’s good advice.

TAMARA KEITH: And they just won’t — people don’t change. People are who they are.

And President Trump has shown himself to be someone who likes the chaos, who likes to make the phone calls, who’s constantly talking. And a chief of staff may not be able to change that, especially when the person you’re trying to change is the president of the United States, and he got there — he got there this way, and he believes that what got him there is what made him successful.

STUART ROTHENBERG: And — and when you have the president’s daughter and son-in-law right there in the White House being very close to the president.

Do we really think that they are not going to go see Donald Trump, but they’re going to go see the chief of staff? Maybe. We will see.

TAMARA KEITH: Or that John Kelly can sit on the president’s phone and not let him go into the residence and call senators or tweet.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Good luck with that.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, good luck.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s turn to health care.

Last week, we saw this incredibly dramatic late Thursday night, into Friday, with John McCain giving the thumbs down and seemingly putting the nail in the coffin of the GOP’s efforts to undo Obamacare.

Is it dead?

STUART ROTHENBERG: For the moment, but I don’t think necessarily long-term.

Already, we have Rand Paul, senator from frankly, Republican senator, talking to the president, suggesting there’s a way around this, that he has some authority to allow creation of associations and group health care plans.

I don’t know whether that’s true. But what it told me, it reminded me is, yes, we have moved on to the next subject, but health care is so important to Republicans, they’re going to be looking for ways to revive the program, whether it’s a repeal and replace or move on somehow. I don’t think it’s entirely dead, no.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Tam, there have been these talks of little chutes of bipartisanship popping up. There’s so-called the Problem Solvers Caucus that is gathering to try to work out another way on health care.

Do you see any optimism that they are going to get together and try to work on reforms that everyone can agree to?

TAMARA KEITH: Certainly, that caucus, which is relatively small, is trying something. And they’re working on something.

If you listen to Republican senators, many of them say, well, we need a bipartisan solution. But what you — one person’s fix is another person’s tear it apart. And that has been the problem all along is trying to come together on something like that.

But there are other chutes at bipartisanship in the Congress right now, or sort of a remarkable chute of bipartisanship, which was that Russia sanctions bill. That bill had …

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Right, universal bipartisanship.

TAMARA KEITH: Bipartisan — overwhelming bipartisan support. Between the House and the Senate, only five people voted against it, which is to say that there are areas where people can get together and that the other party isn’t the enemy.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Count me as skeptical, wildly skeptical, for this reason. The Republican Party stretches from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz.

The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House stretches from Ted Cruz to Bernie Sanders. How are we going to meet in the middle? And if they meet in the middle, it requires, I think, Republicans to give up their repeal argument.

They would have to accept much more — they would have to accept a continuation of Obamacare. I’m skeptical.

TAMARA KEITH: Sanctioning Russia is certainly easier than solving health care.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lastly, quickly, Stu, I know you’re itching to talk about the Alabama special election coming up. This is to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat.

Tell us quickly, what is at stake there? Why are you so curious about that?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Very, very quickly, August 15 primary, late September runoff, and then in December general election or special election.

Why? Because Luther Strange, the incumbent, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate, is getting support from Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment. And there are two big-name contenders in the race, Mo Brooks, congressman from Alabama, and Roy Moore, the judge famous for the Ten Commandments.

They’re both in this race attacking, not only the senator, but Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment. I get e-mails all the time from Roy Moore and from Mo Brooks. And it’s all about, Mitch McConnell is coming in here and he’s trying to take our Senate seat.

It’s really remarkable. It reflects the ongoing infighting in the Republican Party.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, it’s something we will keep an eye on.

Stu Rothenberg, Tamara Keith, thank you both very much.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Thank you.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.

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